Guest post: Emergency preparedness tips

Today’s post is by Diane, a Simple Year reader and writer living in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

In response to a comment I made on this blog awhile ago, a post about emergency preparedness, Trisha asked me if I would do a guest post on my experience. As our fourth nor’easter blizzard in just over a week howls and rages outside I guess this is as good a time as any because, clearly, I won’t be venturing outdoors today.

When life hands you snow, make a beer fridge!

I live in Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, (pop. 149,000), situated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, probably best known as the “home of Anne of Green Gables”. Being a small, and relatively flat, island, we are in the bullseye of the nor’easters, tropical storms and hurricanes that barrel up the Atlantic Coast. We live rurally and most of our power outages occur during the fall/winter/spring months, although, as Quebec singer Gilles Vigneault famously sang, “Mon pays . . . c’est l’hiver” (My country . . . is winter) or, as Canadians are wont to say, we have two seasons in Canada, winter and two months of poor skiing. Yes – we really are The Great White North!

In preparation for this post I polled a couple of friends to see if they had any additional tips and my favourite was from a friend who said, “First, a decent supply of wine!” (The catchphrase for Maritimers expecting a storm is “Get your #stormchips” but, judging from the crowds exiting the liquor store yesterday with boxes of wine and cases of beer, it appears that phrase is being replaced with #stormwine and #stormbeer.)

Long range planning is the key for power outages so that when a storm is forecast one doesn’t have to run out and try to stock up on supplies. Additionally, know where the supplies are kept so that they can be easily located even in the dark. We always keep on hand a good supply of candles and matches (although never leave burning candles unattended), flashlights and batteries (including a hand cranked flashlight and small headlamps that are worn around the head, leaving hands free). I have a friend who even has a pair of reading glasses with tiny LED lights on either side for reading! We also have on hand a phone that can be plugged directly into a wall jack so no electricity is required and a radio that can run on batteries. One friend mentioned that he keeps a large marine battery on hand, making sure that it is discharged and then recharged every autumn. He has a propane heating stove and he plugs the circulating fan into the battery. We are fortunate to have a wood cookstove (with a water jacket) that we use primarily for cooking and heating all winter so heat, hot water and hot food aren’t an issue for us.

Snowdrift getting a little too aggressive.

Speaking of water and food: since we are on a well that requires electricity to pump, we keep a supply of bottled water on hand for drinking and fill the bathtub with water for washing and flushing when a storm approaches. Some folks keep buckets of water stored for this purpose and, in a pinch, clean snow can be brought in and melted. Refrigerators and freezers can be a concern, more so during summer outages. If you suspect that the power may be out for some time, (an ice storm, for example) take any perishables that can be frozen (meat, fish, butter, milk, etc.) out of the fridge and put into freezer, a stand-alone freezer if you have one. Freezers that are quite full can be covered in several heavy quilts and blankets and, if the door is not opened, will hold food safely from 48 to 72 hours depending on where they are (ours is in a cold basement). A cooler can be placed outside in the snow and food placed in that. Try to not open the fridge door if possible. A good supply of canned meat or fish, vegetables, fruit, dry cereals, dried fruit, nuts, energy bars, (#stormchips) etc. should be kept on hand as they don’t require cooking. Have at least one manually operated can opener on hand and a corkscrew and bottle opener – two of each if possible!

When a storm is forecast charge up everything that needs charging (cellphones, although mine has a car charger as well, batteries, etc.) and fill the gas tank of the car. Make sure you have some cash on hand as ATMs and other bank or credit/debit card machines won’t work. Another tip that I hadn’t thought of is to have a paper copy of phone numbers for family, friends, ambulances, doctors, fire department and anyone else you think you might need as nowadays most of us, myself included, just store numbers on our phones.

A good idea would be to take a look around your house and notice what requires electricity that you might be able to substitute with a manual device; in addition to the aforementioned can openers, telephones, etc., we have brooms, a carpet sweeper, a scrub board and so on. This may sound like overkill but in our neck of the woods it’s not uncommon for power outages to last a week or more.

Somewhere out there lies a road . . . the plow can’t find it either.

I realise that a lot of these tips have to do with power outages in the frozen wasteland the Canadian winter but, mercifully, we are largely spared from earthquakes and tornadoes and our summers, while short and achingly beautiful (shameless plug) are usually spared these emergencies unless someone knocks down a hydro pole or a hapless critter electrocutes itself in a generating station (not that uncommon!) Still, barring the snow references, many can still be applied to summer outages. Back in 2003, when we were living in Ontario, we experienced the great blackout that enveloped a large swath of both Canada and the US. Our power was out then for nearly two days and I discovered an amazing number of uses for our backyard barbecue. There were a lot of block parties during that time as folks decided to cook as much of their food as possible and invite the whole neighbourhood. Better than having it go to waste!

Obviously, many of these tips aren’t necessarily zero waste but, in my experience, zero waste is the least of my concerns during a prolonged power outage: I just want to be as safe, warm and comfortable as possible as the situation is stressful enough. If, however, you plan well enough in advance and stock your supplies carefully, you should be able to incorporate as many zero waste solutions as possible. Just remember to keep safety uppermost in your mind: nobody wants to have a fire or serious injury in the best of situations, let alone when a blizzard is howling outside.

Finally, I would also suggest you contact your local Emergency Measures Organisation or Red Cross for their Emergency Preparedness Guide as they are apt to have suggestions and advice that is specific to different situations and regional concerns.

Yep – still snowing out there. Ten days ago the ground was virtually bare (unusual) but today we are facing six to eight foot snowdrifts. Two years ago we got eighteen feet of snow in just seven weeks and none of it melted. While Canada, in general, and Prince Edward Island in particular, tends to fly under the radar, I think we made headlines around the world that year!

8 Responses to Guest post: Emergency preparedness tips

  1. Great tips, Diane. As someone from Ontario, we don’t get as much snow or power outages as you do, but can see some outages from ice storms. We have “borrowed” storm chips from your area once we saw that phrase during your big snow two years ago. For those who aren’t familiar, storm chips are a bag(s) of potato chips that you buy and eat while you stuck indoors. Our favourites are ketchup and all dressed.

    In our family, we camp a lot in so we tend to use our camping supplies during blackouts. Items like headlamps, water purifiers, sleeping bags and camp stove (only outside) have come in handy. We can use snow or our rain barrel and run it through our water filter setup if water ends up being untreated or unavailable. We keep our camping supplies in a closet along with crank radio, crank flashlight, power cell (to charge cell phones) and potassium pills (we live close to two different nuclear plants).

    We have a gas stove that can be lit using matches so we always keep supplies to make soups (lentils, broth, beans, spices) on hand. Our usual breakfast of oatmeal is always on stock too. We have bulk tea and coffee beans with hand grinder and Aeropress to keep us caffeinated. We also keep energy dense items like nuts on hand. Thanks for the link to Red Cross. Spouse volunteers with them and we need to be prepared to be down an adult during an emergency as he may be called out to setup a shelter.

    • #stormchips – another Maritime export! (Ever tried lobster flavour? Interesting but . . . )

      Thanks for the idea of using camping supplies. That would definitely work. (One PEI family recently built an igloo in their yard and spent a stormy night out out there so there’s always that! They said it was quite warm and remarkably quiet).

      Kudos to your spouse – the Red Cross is a wonderful organisation.

  2. Thanks for the insight to a different lifestyle, and the tips. I live in sunny southern California, earthquake country, so we have to be prepared all the time, just in case. I’ve always fantasized about living in PEI (thank you, LM Montgomery) and I love the insight on what it’s really like today.

    • Frankly, I have always thought that folks who live in earthquake or tornado prone areas are exceedingly brave. At least blizzards and hurricanes usually come with a forewarning.

      Come visit sometime – July is usually our best month but the autumn is beautiful as well. (I may be a trifle biased.)

  3. Love this. I’m down in the gulf south, hurricane country, so your experience is s a bit of the opposite of my experience. Some things hold true everywhere, though. I’m quite familiar with #stormbeer – down here everyone rushes to the store for water, bread, batteries, and beer (rum if the hurricane is early in the season) before a storm.

    • We’re not so different after all!

      We keep a close eye on your hurricanes, hoping they blow themselves out before they reach us or, at the very least, degrade into a tropical storm (still pretty fierce). I remember watching Hurricane Hanna make its way up the coast here in September 2008. My daughter was getting married and we were holding our breath and praying as Hanna was threatening to hit on her wedding day. Mercifully, it waited until 4 AM the following morning to hit – and it was a doozy, uprooting trees and washing out roads. While September is usually a nice month here, her wedding day, as Hanna approached, was as hot and humid as August in the South!

      • I cannot even imagine the stress of waiting for a hurricane on your wedding day. Glad Hanna decided to behave that day!

        I am originally from Florida. I still remember 2004 when we had 4 hurricanes in one month. Nothing communicates “nature does not care about your plans” quite as much as a hurricane evacuation when you’ve got things planned.

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